With more time and money, I would have gone to every movie at the MoMA Premiere Brazil Film Festival this year, but unfortunately, I only made it to a few. The first movie I saw was a big disappointment, as was the most recent one I saw. Fortunately, one of the films was so good that it made up for the other two.
The not so thrilling movie was Terras, a documentary about the border region of the Amazon. I could not disagree more with the Huffington Post review:
"Terra sets the stage for the contrasts of social cohabitation that occur between the indigenous Indians, transient locals and governments. The director uses the camera to seduce the viewer with gorgeous portraits of the people that migrate throughout this ambiguous territory, as well as the kaleidoscope of colors and textures that comprise the land itself."
If by seduce, you mean put to sleep, then yes, that just about covers it. While this movie had potential to be really interesting - there were some good interviews with various locals who discussed identity, the Amazon, and the concept of borders - there was absolutely no context or information given about anything or anyone, and an absurd amount of time was spent on close ups of random textures in the forest or uninteresting scenes that went on far too long. This film would be more appropriate as an exhibit at MoMa, one you pass through to look at for a few minutes, but not as a full length feature. Several people left during the movie, including our friends who came with us, and Eli squirmed until the anti-climatic end of the film.
But meanwhile, Lixo Extraordinario (translated in English as Wasteland, though it literally means "Extraordinary Trash"), was by far one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
First of all, I love Vik Muniz. I saw his exhibit in the film when it first opened in Rio, and went twice I loved it so much. But I didn't realize the extent of the story behind the trash series, and this movie blew me away.
The film follows Vik from the beginning to the end of his trash project, where he goes to one of the biggest landfills in the world to collect trash to use for a new series. But instead of staying in the comfort of his beautiful Brooklyn apartment, he ventures to Rio (he is paulista, by the way), and spends time in easily one of the most godforsaken places in Brazil. He hires the garbage pickers at the dump site to collect pieces for his project, who normally collect materials they can recycle. He also hires them to pose for photographs and arrange the trash on projections of the photographs to create amazing works of art. He promises them all of the proceeds from the sales of the pieces so that the money will go back to the community.
While the movie is about art, sustainability, the environment, and poverty, its least obvious theme is classism. Though there are allusions to it, the movie doesn't fully explain just how low on the rung these catadores are; to compare them to the Indian caste system, in Brazil, they're the untouchables. Vik, meanwhile, is very wealthy and from a very different world, though he grew up poor. He purposefully designs a project with social ramifications intended to help those who have very little. (Be prepared: the scenes of poverty are jarring). There's a scene where Vik argues with his wife about the long term effects the project will have on the catadores; she argues he's doing them harm, by giving them a spot in the limelight when they will just have to go back to picking trash. His attitude is different - "If I were in their shoes, I would do the same thing." In the end, there are no illusions that the project couldn't completely change everyone's lives, since it's just not possible. But the experience undoubtedly had a positive, empowering effect on everyone involved. It's also important to note that this scenario is not necessarily the norm for Brazil. While philanthropy is definitely growing, this type of project where the benefactor literally worked side by side with the beneficiaries, so to speak, is not typical for wealthy expat Brazilians, and it was extremely inspiring to see.
The other key facet of the film that makes it such a joy to watch are the catadores themselves, who are each charming in their own way. Tião, the head of the pickers' collective, is the obvious star, but every single person brought something different and compelling to the project (I especially loved Magna). Valter, one of the old-timers, will forever change the way you think about recycling (and really, doing anything to help others) with his simple words of wisdom. "Noventa e nove não é cem," he says, matter-of-factly.
I can pretty much guarantee you'll weep and re-evaluate your life by the end of this movie. Go see it!